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Mitchell's jobless rate hits 4.6 percent

Bryan Hisel

The number of unemployed people in Mitchell rose for the fourth straight month in February.

Between October and February, the number of people in Mitchell who are looking for work and couldn't find jobs rose from 295 to 405, a 37 percent increase, according to statistics released Friday by the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation.

The largest jump in that time was from December to January, when the city's number of unemployed people rose from 315 to 380. From January to February, that number rose again to 405.

The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Mitchell was 4.6 percent in February, up from 4.3 percent in January and the highest it has been since March 2011, when it was 5.3 percent.

But a local development official said the upward trend in the city's unemployment isn't something to worry about -- at least not yet, according to Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and Mitchell Area Development Corp.

"If this were to continue into the summer months I would become more alert and concerned," he said.

The first quarter of each year is typically the slowest for employment, Hisel said. The current trend is likely due to a mismatch between the jobs available in Mitchell and the people looking for work, he added.

"I don't know why (unemployment) upticked," Hisel said. "But I do know we still have a lot of jobs."

Hisel pointed out that more than 290 job openings are listed with the South Dakota Department of Labor.

More concerning than the recent uptick in unemployment in the city is the uncertainty in the national economy and the possibility of continued drought in the area, Hisel said.

"Those are trends that will impact us in a more severe way than seasonality in our unemployment rate," he said.

There was some positive news in the labor data. The city's workforce began to grow again in February, with 8,860 people either employed or looking for work. After climbing to 9,160 last October, Mitchell's workforce had been on a three-month slide, falling from 9,145 in November to 9,035 in December, and to 8,805 in January.

"There are more people in the workforce either with jobs or looking for work, " Hisel said. "That's good news."

But Mitchell's jobless rate fell out of line with state and national trends last month.

The comparable statewide unemployment rate stayed at 4.9 percent from January to February, after it rose from 4.5 percent in December. The national rate fell from 8.5 percent in January to 8.1 percent in February.

Lance Koth, market president for First Dakota National Bank in Mitchell, said Friday in an interview with The Daily Republic that he is not concerned about the rise in Mitchell's unemployment.

First Dakota has hired more employees in the last six months, Koth said.

"We're quite picky in our industry and we're able to find folks," he said. "We haven't had to go outside the area at all."

Koth is also board president for the Mitchell Area Development Corp., but said he was not speaking from that position in Friday's interview.

Barring an unforeseen economic crisis, Koth said First Dakota will continue to expand its employment in Mitchell.

"I don't see any reason why we wouldn't," he said.